Jaren Jackson Jr. is the front-runner for Defensive Player of The Year and was just selected to his first All-Star game, so this take of mine might seem like a weird thing to say, I think JJJ is getting overlooked. He is only 23 years old. In my mind, he is a budding star and his skill set could make him one of the most valuable players in the league in his prime.
Two of the most valuable skills you can have in the modern NBA are being an elite rim protector and being able to be a movement 3-point shooter. What is interesting about JJJ is that you don’t normally see a player that can do both, to the point where I struggle to think of another guy that can do both of those. It’s even rare just to find a big guy that teams run through screens to try to get an open 3.
JJJ’s offensive game is still a work in progress, but I really think there are 23-24 points per game potential with him. As I said, he is only 23, he could still be 4-5 years away from his prime. I really enjoy it when he shows off his perimeter skills. This is especially nice to see because of JJJ’s 3-point shooting, if teams are trying to run him off the 3-point line, he can attack off the dribble. He can even lead a fastbreak and take it all the way if nobody stops the ball.
His 3 point shot does still need to improve. He is currently a 34.9% shooter from deep on 4.7 attempts per game. I do think he will continue to grow there. He clearly wants it to be a part of his game and he is comfortable shooting that many times per game. His confidence is a big reason why I think his shooting will continue to improve. He is not afraid to pull up from deep.
Where Jaren is really special, is as a rim protector. He is arguably the best shot blocker in the league right now. He currently leads the league in blocks per game at 3.2 and has some distance over Nic Claxton who is in second at 2.6. The Grizzlies tend to play another big with JJJ which allows him to play a free safety-like role. He can roam around and come out of nowhere to surprise people at the rim.
What also makes this a vital option is JJJ’s ability to defend on the perimeter. He might be the most versatile defender in the league. As a big, he can play drop coverage in the pick and roll and can switch onto guys on the perimeter and stay with them. Even elite off-the-dribble guys have a hard time shaking him in isolation situations. A lot of the elite rim protectors struggle to play a switch style and have to rely on drop coverage which is also vulnerable to perimeter guys that can take off the dribble 3s. With JJJ, you can adapt to whatever works best against your opponent.
There’s a lot of bad vibes coming out of Memphis recently and this is starting to feel like a lost season for their championship hopes. But this is not a lost season for JJJ who continues to develop into one of the most valuable players in the league. Versatility is needed to be able to go deep into the playoffs and JJJ gives Memphis that on both sides of the court. Grizzlies have plenty of reason to still be optimistic about their future, and JJJ is a huge reason why.